Café Marie-Jeanne: A Rustic French Dream That Transcends French Cuisine
Neighborhood: Humboldt Park
Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★
Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★
Food Quality: ★★★★★
Overall Rating: ★★★★★
If you want a cozy, intimate, yet exciting dining experience, Café Marie-Jeanne is a perfect option. I absolutely adored everything about this place. It has “traditional” French food but also innovative, contemporary dishes that are made in really unique ways. There was nothing I ate here that I didn’t love. We came here on a Wednesday night and decided to try the $36/person prix fixe menu, which was a decent deal because it included options from each part of the menu. It was an excellent way to try the menu! The decor is rustic and adorable in a way that conveys they aren’t trying too hard but still care. They had written their specials on a chalkboard like a traditional French Bistro, which I found endearing. It was dimly lit, but not too dimly lit so you could still see your dinner companion. It is a perfect place for an intimate friend or romantic dinner date!
The hostess was pleasant and our server was really helpful with explaining the prix fixe menu. We also were there later at night and didn’t feel rushed out or anything. She was also helpful with recommendations and down to earth, which is unique in contemporary, rustic places like this. Being a fan of French cuisine and salty fish products, I was in love with the menu and wanted to try everything. The prix fixe option was a perfect way to try as much as I wanted and the portions were excellent. We had a lot of leftovers.
We started out with the caviar toast. The bread was amazing and soaked up the crème fraiche perfectly with the salty caviar. I typically don’t like crème fraiche, but this one tasted more like a cheese and not like sour cream (I hate sour cream). The caviar melted in my mouth. Another way of getting our salty fish fix was by ordering the smoked trout and the hot smoked salmon, which came with more delicious bread, pickled cucumbers, onions, a hard boiled egg, and potatoes. The fish was prepared perfectly, had an amazing texture, and was smoked really well.
One of their specials that day was “curry anchovy fries” which were also mouthwateringly delicious! The salty anchovy flavor went seamlessly with the curry flavor and the breading. It came with three different dipping sauces and my favorite one was this chili oil sauce that complemented the spice of the curry well. Being a cheesehead, I couldn’t go to a French restaurant without ordering a cheese plate. They have different cheese specials everyday written on the board so we ordered a cheese from France and from California. The cheese from California was very unique. It was light, flaky, and looked like a flower almost. It had a very mild, nutty flavor. The French cheese was like a traditional creamy Brie or Camembert cheese that paired well with the apples on the plate. It also came with more delicious bread!
For the entree part, I ordered the bucatini that had langoustines and a chili oil sauce and it was truly amazing. I unfortunately couldn’t enjoy this too much because I was full from the other courses. But the sauce had bread crumbs and chili oil that the langoustines were generously sautéed in. The bucatini pasta tasted fresh too. Since we were super full, we didn’t order dessert. The prix fixe was a really flexible option because we ordered an extra appetizer instead of dessert.
I truly cannot wait for the next time I have the opportunity to dine here. It is a pricier place, but it is worth the price and the prix fixe menu on a Wednesday night was a much more affordable way to try these delicacies.
La Boulangerie: Get Your Crepe On
Neighborhood: Logan Square
Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★★
Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★
Food Quality: ★★★★1/2
Overall Rating: ★★★★1/2
- Meals/Snacks: Smoked Salmon Crepe and Brie Croissant Sandwich
- Dessert: Almond Croissant
Logan Square now has a charming, French Boulangerie for one to reminisce about being in France, drink coffee, and eat delicious food. The counter is surrounded by gorgeous French pastries and bread. It’s basically a Parisian dream in Logan Square. I find it hard to find affordable French food in Chicago. While there are some remarkable French restaurants in Chicago, most of them are quite pricey and you can’t really have an affordable, casual lunch there. Sometimes I just want a savory crepe or croissant sandwich and I was able to find that here.
La Boulangerie is a small, cozy and modern looking Parisian boulangerie with a wide assortment of traditional French pastries, breads, coffee, and tea. They also have some substantial lunch items like sandwiches and savory crepes. I am a big fan of savory crepes and and while they weren’t on the menu at this specific location they let us customize the crepe to our liking. So we ordered the Atlantic sandwich in the style of a savory crepe. It came with smoked salmon, horseradish aioli, red onions, greens, a hard boiled egg chopped up inside, and an over-easy egg on top. The crepe was a wheat crepe so it was hard to cut up at times but it was worth the difficulty since wheat flour tends to be healthier than white flour. All of the flavors went really well together in the crepe – you can’t really go wrong with smoked salmon and the horseradish aioli gave it a nice little kick but didn’t dominate the crepe. The yolk from the over-easy egg oozed out deliciousness and was soaked up perfectly by the wheat crepe. It also came with some mixed greens drizzled with a light, zesty dijon vinaigrette, which was tasty. There was a bit of balsamic drizzled on the side of the crepe creating not only a delectable meal but an aesthetically pleasing plate.
We also tried their sandwich of the day, which we had on a croissant. The croissant was flaky and moist with caramelized onions and brie. Quite simple, but quite delicious. Can you really go wrong with caramelized onions and brie? I don’t think you can. But the onions were perfectly caramelized though. We decided to take a sweet almond croissant for the road. It was crispy, flaky, and moist with a stimulating almond flavor to complement all of the savory delights. I can’t wait to come back here to have another delicious lunch or snack while getting some necessary work done in a quiet, clean environment.
Margeaux Brasserie: A Taste of Classic, Parisian Cuisine
Neighborhood: Gold Coast
Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★
Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★
Food Quality: ★★★★★
Overall Rating: ★★★★★
Located within the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, Margeaux Brasserie takes you back to classic Parisian cuisine with a 1920’s style decor. I have had the pleasure of dining here for dinner and brunch. When I first came here, I was here for my dear friend’s birthday celebration. It was the perfect place for two Francophiles. I absolutely adore French restaurants and Brasseries. I really liked that this was a traditional Parisian Brasserie and it was sooo charming! The service was excellent both times. The hosts were nice and gave my friend a cute birthday card. The server was great as well and helpful with everything. They weren’t snobby and completely down to earth, which is refreshing for a fancy place like this.
Their wine list is expansive and their cocktails are amazing. They were uniquely crafted and flavorful. We had a sweeter, fruity cocktail that wasn’t overly sugary but had nice Tiki vibes. We had a more traditional old fashioned whiskey based cocktail that was intense but not too intense for someone who doesn’t drink hard liquor by itself.
Everything I ate here was absolutely delicious. They could have had more vegetarian options, they didn’t have any vegetarian entrees but for what they did have, it was absolutely delicious and there were enough pescatarian options at least. They serve you a nice warm baguette with a scrumptious sea salt butter. It was so nice and crusty. We started out with the sweet leek and corn veloute. It was like a lighter, delicious version of a corn chowder but it was some soup served over crab and truffle. The truffle wasn’t very strong but the crab tasted very fresh.
For my dinner I ordered the French Onion soup with the mushroom and fennel fricassee. Wow! These dishes in themselves are five stars. It was one of the best French Onion soups I have ever had in my life! The cheese was crusted and baked nicely. It was also a fine mixture of cheese such as an aged Gruyere. And the chives were freshly drizzled on top. The broth had a wine flavor to it as well that was impeccable. The mushroom fennel fricassee was out of this world. I can’t remember the last time I had mushrooms that were this phenomenal. The sauce was a mixture of wine, broth, and cream and every bite was heavenly. The mushrooms were fresh and had a perfect texture.
They also gave us a complimentary piece of Opera cake (I believe) for my friend’s birthday and that was decadent but not overly decadent. I couldn’t eat enough of it even though I knew I had to stop and did eventually stop.
I returned here for brunch a couple of months later and it was another exquisite dining experience. It has a classic, elegant feel with the option of sitting in the more private dining area or in the bistro style brasserie. They didn’t have too many savory vegetarian options on the menu but decent pescatarian options. Being the Nutella lovers that we are, we started with the Nutella Sticky Bun, which had some Tahitian vanilla brioche and toasted hazelnut drizzled on top. It was absolutely decadent and amazing.
When I go out for brunch, Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict is my go to entrée and I’ve been disappointed many times at other restaurants. The Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict at Margeaux was the best I have had in Chicago! The eggs were poached perfectly with a scrumptious, creamy Bearnaise sauce served over a bed of fresh spinach. Instead of the traditional English Muffin, it was served on a flaky, fresh croissant. The salmon was smoked perfectly and very delightful. We also ordered some breakfast potatoes on the side and they were seasoned exquisitely with herbs, sautéed onions, and a bit of a gravy. I don’t think I’ve had better made breakfast potatoes at a restaurant before.
We left our brunch feeling satisfied and in love with the flavors and ambience of Margeaux Brasserie. I love this place and can’t wait to come back here for another special occasion. Yes, it’s pricey unfortunately, but everything is high quality here ranging from the drinks to the food to the service. Brunch is a more affordable way to dine here though.
Mon Ami Gabi: A Warm Journey to Paris
Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
Vegetarian Options Rating: ★★★
Pescatarian Options Rating: ★★★★★
Food Quality: ★★★★1/2
Overall Rating: ★★★★★
As a Francophile, it has been a priority of mine to try as many French restaurants as possible in Chicago. There are barely any on the West side, and they are all on the Northeast or Downtown part of Chicago. French food doesn’t have to be expensive but most of the French places in Chicago are expensive, making it much more difficult to enjoy such fine cuisine.
Do not lose all hope though! Restaurant Week in Chicago enables one to go to restaurants that typically might be unaffordable and try an assortment of their cuisine for a more “relatively” affordable price of $22 for brunch or lunch and $33 or $44 for dinner per person. There are some restaurants that have mid-range prices where Restaurant Week ends up being more expensive for dinner, there are other places that tend to even out and other restaurants where it is cheaper to go off their restaurant week menu than their regular menu. Mon Ami Gabi’s Restaurant Week special for dinner was a bit cheaper than their regular menu (depending on what you get). The restaurant week special did enable one to try an assortment of their desserts, which is not on their regular menu.
Mon Ami Gabi is a classic Parisian style Bistro – it is upscale, but not stuffy. You walk in and are taken by the charm and ambience of a bistro in Paris with their dark wood pillars and accents interspersed with little chalkboards that have seafood specials written in French. The tan/beige wall color with the darker wood and larger windows provided that cozy, French ambience. The lighting is dim making it a perfect space for an intimate friend dinner or romantic date. The service was excellent on all fronts as well, and the individuals serving the water and running food were very fast. Our server was also on top of everything and went out of her way to make the experience enjoyable for us.
Considering that we went to Mon Ami Gabi for Restaurant Week, we decided to go with the Restaurant Week menu for $44 per person. It was a “treat yourself” kind of night. We both ordered a glass of French wine to compliment the meal (“when in France”), and they had a wonderful selection of wine from their rotating daily menu. I had a glass of the sparkling rosé and my dining companion had the Beaujolais, which was a very mild, red wine.
A complementary warm baked baguette with a sweet, creamy butter, a carrot vinaigrette salad, and a mushroom tartare were served to start off the dining experience. There is nothing like a warm baguette with fresh butter to start your meal with. I love French bread and am all about enjoying your carbs if you can. To cope with the heaviness though, the carrot vinaigrette salad provided some refreshing zest to the heavy bread and mushroom tartare. The mushroom tartare was served on a little crostini and was earthy and savory. I appreciated that it was a mushroom tartare since most places tend to do beef or tuna tartare. I found it original.
For the appetizers, we ordered French Onion Soup and Escargot. We told the server we were going to share the appetizers so she brought out two different bowls of French Onion Soup for us! That was very thoughtful of her. The French Onion soup was basically your gooey, delicious gruyere cheese party on top of the moist, soaked up bread, broth, and caramelized onions. I only let myself eat this a few times a year and it was worth it.
The baked escargot was also extremely satisfying and tasty dish served with a garlic, basil, herb butter. The escargot texture was perfectly firm and soaked up that heavenly butter, which reminded me of a delightful pesto sauce. I used the bread to soak it up because that butter should not go to waste! It was my dining companion’s first time eating escargot and it was a success! This is a great place to try your first escargot since they prepare it perfectly.
At this point, we were already getting full, but when in Paris, you have to live up to the food challenge. For our entrées, we ordered the Salmon and Casareccia Pasta. Both of these were jaw-droppingly delicious. The Salmon filet had a flaky texture with subtle flavors over a delicate beurre blanc sauce. It was served with roasted fingerling potatoes. I think they could have seasoned the potatoes more, but I know they were going for a light, delicate flavor. The menu description said it was served with a caviar créme fraîche. There was no créme fraîche (which is fine with me because I don’t really like it), but I did ask the server about the caviar because I didn’t see it on my plate. She said it was very small and served in the beurre blanc sauce. It didn’t taste like caviar, nor did it pop in my mouth like caviar so I’m not sure what happened with that. The caviar issue is my only complaint with the dining experience.
The Casereccia Pasta was exquisite. It consisted of a wide variety of mushrooms such as oyster and maitake served in a light truffle oil sauce with hints of lemon. The truffle oil was a prominent flavor in the dish, which was very much to my liking. The poached egg in the middle added a delicate creaminess to the light, truffle sauce and the Gran Padano cheese contributed a saltiness to the perfectly composed pasta dish.
You can’t enjoy the restaurant week menu without immersing yourself in the desserts at a French restaurant so regardless of how full we were, we still had them. Their dessert was a combination of their profiterole (pastry with vanilla ice cream in the middle with chocolate generously drizzled on top), vanilla créme brûlée, and chocolate mousse. I went into a food coma because of this dessert trio, but it was well worth it. The double chocolate fudge melting on the ice cream, the thick, decadent chocolate mousse with the little chocolate balls, and the crusty top of the vanilla créme brûlée made me an extremely happy human being. What an experience!
I left Mon Ami Gabi stuffed with leftovers, delighted, and excited for the next time I get to set foot in there. They have so many other delicious items on their menu that I’d like to try. But it’ll have to wait for a celebration or special occasion as it is a pricey restaurant in Lincoln Park.